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Tuesday in November

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Tuesday in November

Published 1945

PLEASE NOTE: A vastly improved version of this film made from a 35mm preserved print is available here:

Idealized portrayal of 1944 U.S. presidential election, made to show the world that the United States was sufficiently secure to hold a free and fair election during wartime. Shows campaign activities, efforts to ensure the secrecy of the ballot and fairness of the election, and media coverage of the electoral process, all culminating in a giant nighttime gathering in Times Square where a huge crowd awaits the result. Director: John Houseman. Assistant Director: Nicholas Ray. Animation: John Hubley. Music: Virgil Thomson.

Run time 16:43
Producer U.S. Office of War Information
Sponsor N/A
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W



"It is early morning of the first Tuesday in November. This is an American city. A city that is not very large, not very rich, not very old. It is situated in the western part of the United States, in California. Its name is Riverton. The woman in the car is Mrs. Dawson, one of Riverton's fifteen thousand residents. She is principal of Public School No. 2, but today there will be no classes held here. For this is Election Day."
Tuesday in November is a film in simple language made primarily for overseas audiences, many of whom did not enjoy the right to elect their own governments. It dramatizes both the participation of citizens in the electoral process and the 1944 campaign for the Presidency, linking these two threads into a quasi-religious quest characterized by unchallenged belief, ritualistic behavior and culminating in a mass announcement before a large crowd. The simplicity expressed in the understated narration and many of the images was a conscious choice dictated by the non-English-speaking intended audience, but for us now underscores the film's stature as a morality play.
Dramatized, animated and newsreel footage are all mobilized to invoke emotionally charged themes. Solemn honesty is linked with the American electoral process very early in the film as the poll officials convene: "First they remove the last traces of their campaign activities, their party buttons. Then they take the oath." Then the first voter of the day -- a milkman -- enters the booth, but he leaves us behind. "That's as far as we can go. Remember, this is a secret vote. No one ever sees another person mark his ballot." Though he may be simply a milkman, in our system he is invested with great power: "When Bill Johnson is finished, he has elected an entire government, from top to bottom. That is, if the majority of voters think the way he does about it." Newsreel footage follows; without comment, we see African-Americans lining up to vote, probably in New York City. We return to Riverton, where actors playing voters are waiting in line at the polls. One brushes his sleeve against the chalkboard, elegantly segueing into yesterday's history lesson, where two previous wartime elections, 1864 and 1916, were discussed, proving that this is a country secure enough to hold elections in wartime. Newsreel footage shows masses of people turning out for campaign events (what we now call "retail politics"); the crowds continue to increase until the end, when New York's Times Square is filled with people waiting for the election returns.
As a member of Hollywood's progressive community in the Forties, John Houseman was attracted to documentary film as a means of influencing social change. Wartime found him engaging in propaganda activities for the U.S. government. Tuesday in November was designed to explain the American political system and election process in a simple way that could be easily internationalized. Houseman assembled a skilled production team whose commitment to the ideals shown in the film was clear. Unlike most other films that celebrate American democracy, this one avoids appealing to mythology or to abstract ideals. (For something completely different, see Freedom Highway on The Uncharted Landscape disc.) That Tuesday in November shows the everyday business of elections as a routine, unquestioned exercise in democracy speaks for its honesty and authenticity.
The Office of War Information films have been criticized for idealizing and oversimplifying the reality of American life, and there is no question that they do so. Tuesday in November ultimately is a case of wishful thinking, or about how things ought to be. Much of what we see is neither truthful nor completely candid. Elections were being stolen that year of 1944. Black people were effectively forbidden from voting in many states. Roosevelt was not strongly opposed in the wartime election of 1944. And it would be fair to say that the film's emphasis on mass events and politicians taking their campaigns directly to the people belittles the effect of the mass media in manipulating the public. The mobilization of communications technology in the service of fair and speedily reported election returns is at best a by-product of a media establishment that was set up to manufacture consent.
But, by the time the results are being calculated and disseminated, it no longer seems to matter. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the returns. Virgil Thomson's score and the searchlights sweeping the crowd vaguely suggest that they are awaiting some sort of visitation. Ultimately, the elegance and authority of the film lends credence to its optimistic view of our system, making it one of those rare propaganda films that has the power to seek out and stir whatever trace of idealism still may survive in your mind. "All over America tonight, the people are waiting to learn whom they have chosen to govern them for the next four years. Toward midnight, the final results are announced. A nation of a hundred and forty million has elected a government."

Three people standing behind a table, palms up, taking an oath
A zoom into a curtain
Animation of the departments of the U.S. government
Close-up of a voting ballot being marked
A milkman
People standing in lines
Close-up of ballots being placed in voting boxes
people debating with each other -- in a machine shop, dentist's office, two housewives over a fence, two boys
People cheering
A street parade, crowds
People clapping in an indoor assembly
People gathered around radios
Adding and tabulating machines, close-ups and in large groups
A crowd with umbrellas -- aerial view
Night time crowd in Times Square
Roosevelt, Truman

POLITICAL SCIENCE GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS POLITICS PRESIDENTS PARTIES CAMPAIGNS NOMINATIONS CONVENTIONS VOTING DEMOCRACY Schools Towns Streets Milkmen Elections Politics Political conventions (1944) Dewey, Thomas A. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Presidents (U.S.) Political campaigns (U.S.) Democratic convention (1944) Republican convention (1944) Political parties Newspapers Radio broadcasting Teletypes Adding machines Calculators (mechanical) Telephones Signs (Times Square) Times Square, New York City (history and culture) Children (fighting) Conflict Disagreement Contention Election Day Ballots Voting Voting machines Secrecy Privacy Political campaign buttons Soldiers (voting) Motorcades Ballot boxes Lines (people waiting in) African Americans (voting) African Americans (poll lines) Polls World War II (elections) Animation Constitution (U.S.) Government (U.S.) (structure of) Patriotism Idealizations Democracy Houseman, John U.S. Office of War Information (sponsor)
[This film was produced by the Office of War Information in 1945 for its overseas information program. It is released through the Office of Education, Federal Security Agency, for educational, non-theatrical use within the United States. All exhibitions, including television, is subject to published restrictions.]
[United Films presents The American Scene A series, number XIII. Tuesday in November. music themes Virgil Thomson]
It is early morning of the first Tuesday in November. This is an American city, a city that is not very large, not very rich, not very old. [towns cities panoramic views panoramas aerials harvesting farmers hay wagons Main streets churches automobiles cars bicycles traffic Riverside, California]
It is situated in the western part of the United States, in California. Its name is Riverton. [trees]
The woman in the car is Mrs. Dawson, one of Riverton's fifteen thousand residents. She is principal of Public School number two but today there will be no classes held here, for this is election day. [signs posters elections Election To-day! Closed Election Day. Vote here precinct 2. Bar closed during Election Hours Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1944. This bar will observe Election Day, Tuesday November 7th. A Legal Holiday. Vote as you please but Vote. Closed for Elections. barbershops barber poles]
This classroom is one of the hundred and thirty thousand places the country over in which American citizens are going to cast their votes today. This is the table where the voters' names will be checked; the locked ballot box and the polling booth. [classrooms chairs schools windowshades window shades American flags ballot boxes preparations]
Here it is, in the privacy of this curtained space, that the American voters, every four years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November choose their national government.
Here comes Mrs. Dawson's colleagues on the election board of Riverton's seventh precinct, each representing one of the major political parties.
Mr. Schwartz is a Republican who works for the street car company. Mrs. Abernathy is a housewife and a Democrat. Mrs. Dawson is chairman. They've all known one another for years. [preparation]
First they remove the last traces of their campaign activities - their party buttons - then they take the oath. [honesty fairness electioneering campaign buttons political buttons Roosevelt Democratic party donkeys swearing]
"Do you swear to defend the Constitution of the United States of America and to perform your duties as members of the Election Board to the best of your abilities, so help you God?" "I do." "I do." This makes them responsible for seeing that the voting here today takes place according to the laws of the land.
And now the polls are open. Here comes the first voter. [Arden Milk. dairy trucks milkmen deliverymen dairies]
No wonder he's first. He's been up since four o'clock delivering milk.
"Good morning everybody." "Hop on, you're the very first one, right on the dot." "I always like to vote early. It gives the Republicans a temporary lead." [uniforms humor jokes]
"Here's your ballot, Bill." That's as far as we can go. Remember, this is a secret vote. No one ever sees another person mark his ballot. [honesty privacy anonymity secret ballots delicacy]
However, if we did have miraculous powers and if we were able, just this once, to follow Bill Johnson, this is what we'd see.
He votes first for the chief executives - the president and vice-president of the United States. Next he votes for a senator from his state, then a representative from his district. This man is casting his vote for a government of his own choosing under the Constitution of the United States. [Constitution of the United States of America. marking paper ballots X's Presidential Electors vote for one party Thomas A. Dewey, for president. John W. Bricker, for Vice President. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for President. Harry S. Truman, for Vice President. Claude A. Watson, for President. Andrew Johnson, for Vice President. Republican. Democratic. Independent. Congressional. United States Senator. Vote for One. Sheridan Downey, Democratic, United States Senator. Frederick F. Houser, Republican. Lieutenant Governor of California. Representative in Congress, Eighteenth District. Ward Johnson, Republican, U.S. Representative in Congress. Clyde G. Doyle, Democratic, Lawyer. Legislature. Member of the Assembly, Seventieth District.]
This is the way it is set up. There are three branches of the United States government: the executive branch, or President; the legislative branch, or Congress; and the judicial branch, the Supreme Court. [animation John Hubley separation of power]
The duties of each branch are established in the Constitution. Let's see how they work.
The President is the executive head of the nation. He initiates all important policies such as treaties with other governments and the conduct of national affairs. He is Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Navy, an important consideration in a wartime election.
The Vice-President is the President's legal successor. The President keeps him informed on matters of state and policy. The Vice-President, by custom, sits as a member of the President's cabinet.
The cabinet members are the heads of the executive departments of the government, such as the State Department, War Department, Treasury Department, Department of the Interior, of Labor, Commerce, and so on. The cabinet advises the president on matters of policy.
The powers of the President and his helpers are limited, for this is a government not of men but of laws - based upon the Constitution.
Congress makes the laws. It is the parliament which, unlike many democratic parliaments, has no direct connection with the executive branch.
This branch of the government is made up of two houses, a Senate and a House of Representatives. A law may originate in either house but must be approved by both of them.
When a bill is passed by both houses, it is sent to the President. If the President also approves the bill, he signs it. It then becomes law.
The President may veto a bill passed by the Congress. But Congress may still, by a two-thirds majority, make the bill law.
Although the chief responsibility of Congress is that of making laws, certain other responsibilities are delegated to the two houses.
In the Senate, or upper house, as it is called, each of the forty-eight states in the nation is represented by two elected members, making a total membership of ninety-six.
Small states and large have equal representation in the Senate. The Senate has two important functions aside from its law-making duties: To pass on important Presidential appointments and to approve or reject all treaties with other nations initiated by the President.
When a treaty is under consideration, the members of the Senate express their opinions - either of approval or of disapproval - and then a vote is taken. If two-thirds of the Senate approves of the treaty, it is in effect.
In the House of Representatives, or lower house, each of the forty-eight states is represented in proportion to its population. The more populous of the states have the greater number of members in the House of Representatives.
All measures dealing with the appropriation of money for the nation's use originate, and are controlled, in the lower house.
The money appropriated is turned over to the President for expenditure. And the President, with the aid of the Cabinet, spends the money in the manner decided upon by the Congress. Whether it be for purposes of peace or of war.
Although the Congress of the United States makes the laws of the land, its powers are also limited by the Constitution.
As a check on both executive and legislative branches of the government, there is a third branch - the judicial, the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed for life by the President. The Supreme Court protects the Constitution from violation by Congressional laws or executive orders.
The three branches - executive, legislative and judicial - each with some power, none with all the power, check and balance each other in the manner intended by the framers of the Constitution, so that the ultimate power rests always in the hands of the voter - Bill Johnson. [ballots]
Having voted for a federal government, he must also choose a governor for his state, members of the State Assembly, county judges - all the minor offices and various legislative amendments.
When Bill Johnson is finished, he has elected an entire government from top to bottom. That is, if a majority of the voters think the way he does about it.
It's not only here in Riverton that the voting is heavy today. All over the country people are conscious of the momentous issues facing their nation and the world. [newsreel footage lines queues voters African Americans women men Black women Blacks Bronx, N.Y. Bronx Beacon Laundry New York City streets Lynch's Bar and Grill urban scenes streets sidewalks]
This is their way of expressing their conviction of how - and by whom - these issues should be met. [ballot boxes voting ballots curtains booths stuffing inserting slots]
The two major presidential candidates vote like all the other citizens. One of them, in New York City, describes himself as a lawyer. [Thomas A. Dewey smiling voting machines]
The other, up in the country where his home is, gives his occupation of farmer. [Franklin Delano Roosevelt Hyde Park, N.Y. Eleanor Roosevelt convertibles open automobiles cars]
For those who cannot come to the polls, an absentee ballot is provided and the voting is supervised by the local notary. This is the same kind of ballot that in this wartime election is sent to members of the armed forces at home and abroad. [troops invalids sickbeds GI's soldiers U.S. Army Official Federal War Ballot envelopes licking]
These ballots are returned to be counted in their respective states. Here in Riverton, the line grows longer. The citizens are following the constitutional provision and elections are held on schedule: rain or shine, panic or prosperity, peace or war. That chalk on his sleeve is part of yesterday's history lesson when Mrs. Dawson reminded her pupils of two other memorable elections. [blackboards campaign buttons pins electioneering fairness Presidents 1852 Franklin Pierce 1856 James Buchanan 1860 1864 Abraham Lincoln]
In 1864, with the nation in the throes of a civil war, Abraham Lincoln, one of America's greatest presidents, was opposed in a bitter campaign by one of his own generals. The people chose to reelect Mr. Lincoln. [political cartoons "This reminds me of a little joke." Peace War New York, Wednesday, November 9, 1864. Victory! Glorious Result Yesterday. Election of Lincoln and Johnson. Terrible Defeat of McClellan. The Union Triumphant.]
In 1916, during the First World War, an election was held, and now again in 1944. [Woodrow Wilson]
Early in the summer, nominating conventions are held. At these traditionally noisy political jamborees, the chosen delegates of each major party meet to select a candidate for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of the United States. [arenas crowds spectators political conventions delegates audiences speakers spectators political parties Chinese Americans Asian Americans clapping applause banners signs placards press reporters walkie-talkies portable radios communication Roosevelt for Victory Roosevelt and a Lasting Piece G.O.P. elephants American Needs Roosevelt]
Now the candidates have been chosen. And the campaign is on - from president to local sheriff. [Republicans nominate Dewey and Bricker. Democrats nominate Roosevelt and Truman. Retain Joe Hill, Sheriff. Vote for Clem Carlson for Sheriff, Republican Candidate. A New Broom Sweeps Clean.]
For three months, all through the late Summer and Fall, wherever people come together issues and men are discussed and argued about. Some feel that this isn't altogether a good thing, that a lot of time and energy are wasted this way. It may be, but that's the way Americans like to do it. [banners Experience counts. Re-Elect William J. "Bill" Brunton Councilman, first district. Retain Francis R. Crawford as your Councilman, 9th district. Let's Keep Progress. Re-Elect Downey. posters stickers discussions argumentation arguments]
They like to feel everybody has a right to speak and is interested enough to do it - even the small fry. Every attempt is made by all parties to influence the people's thinking. [Harry S. Truman dentists patients emotions children stumping speeches]
All over the country, week after week, a hundred and forty million citizens take part in the great debate. [parades crowds Indians Native American press corps journalists retail politics crowds trains railroads whistlestop tours campaigns ticker tape parades motorcades Secret Service agents press breakfasts reporters]
Business, professional, and civic groups endorse one candidate or the other. For the first time in American history, organized labor takes an active part in the campaign. [labor officials William Green Philip Murray AFL CIO workers labor unions]
Radio plays a greater role than ever. Time on the air is paid for by all parties and distributed evenly among them, giving the party in office no advantage over its opponents. It is estimated that during the last days of the 1944 campaign, seventy million Americans heard the speeches of the various candidates. [radio transmitters transmitting towers antennas radios troops nurses CBS NBC rally rallies flags listeners listening huddles hospitals nurses]
Now all that is over, the heat and excitement. The votes are cast and Americans have agreed to accept the will of the majority - whatever it may be. Apparently even the younger generation has declared peace. [palm trees palms]
Now the election board begins its last duty: the counting of the votes. The figures are checked and doublechecked. Then they are telephoned to headquarters. [tallying tallies election returns telephones dialing]
"Hello, this is Mrs. Dawson, seventh precinct, ready to report." From coast to coast, precinct by precinct, city by city, state by state, the results are reported. [tabulators telephones operators adding machines calculators teletypes telegraphy telegraphs paper tape messages information communications keys fingers infrastructure]
All over America tonight, the people are waiting to learn whom they have chosen to govern them for the next four years. [umbrellas crowds anticipation loudspeakers keyboards teletypists teletypes operators]
Towards midnight the final results are announced. [radio stations networks studios announcers announcements Times Square, New York City Manhattan Zipper signs confirms the re election of President Roosevelt suspense cheers lights public events news broadcasts broadcasting information]
A nation of a hundred and forty million has elected a government. [Hotel Astor Camels billboards electric signs Planters Peanuts]
[The End. Produced by the United States Office of War Information, Overseas Branch.]


Reviewer: micah6vs8 - favorite - January 11, 2012
Subject: FDR:Poster Child for Term Limits
4 terms! Seriously? What an awful presidency from trying to pack the Supreme Court to denying black men equal status in WW2 to Yalta (bye bye Poland & Eastern Europe) and that is the least of it in total. A man of marginal character at best. At least he picked Truman for V.P. in '44.
Reviewer: donwert - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 4, 2011
Subject: Familiar Voice
Do my ears betray me or the narrator Jose Ferrer?
Always fun in these 1940s war information films to see all the character actors we've all seen in movies from that era---the Republican and Democratic poll workers must have been in dozens of films....
Reviewer: uniQ - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 27, 2010
Subject: An old style election
You have to admit, idealized as it obviously is, the idea of an election, both in ideal, concept and physical operation, is quite amazing. It is too bad there aren't more people like Mrs. Dawson out there to make sure every vote is cast and counted.
Reviewer: Wilford B. Wolf - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 28, 2005
Subject: The Democratic Circus
As part of the postwar effort, the United States government produced a series of film to ready the war torn countries of Europe and Asia for setting up American style democracies. This film explains, in simplified terms, the American electorial process, describing such concepts as the secret ballot, and the system of checks and balances. While there is some dated information (references to 48 states, and specific references to the 1944 election), the basic information is still valid, if a bit idealized. Note that such institutions such as the role of labor and other specialized groups in an election are just starting and use of electronic media is still something of a novelity.

Of particular note is the director of the film, attributed by Mr. Prelinger to John Houseman (though the film itself does not give such a credit). Houseman became best known in the 1970s as the spokesperson for Smith-Barney ("the old fashioned way, they earned it") and starring in the movie The Paper Chase. However, Houseman got his start in the 1930s writing and co-producing with Orson Welles' Mercury Theater on radio, stage, and on film (most notably the classic Citizen Kane). As part of the wartime effort, a number of Hollywood types joined the Information Office to produce films. While this film is no Citizen Kane, it is certainly interesting to compare the idealized portrait of an election portrayed here, and the realpolitik that makes up the campaign of Charles Foster Kane.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 5, 2005
Subject: Dewey For President!
Very nicely put together short about the intricies of putting an election together in small town America in 1944, we follow a regular office (Campaign buttons off please!) as people stroll in to cast their ballots. We see who the people are voting for (eg the upper house, the lower house) and we also see some fantastic early convention footage. All of this is narrated by your Uncle Ben, the calm one who sat you by the fire and told you stories? Anyways, the narration is calm, which makes you very comfortable and at ease. A surprise! Highly reccomended!
Reviewer: hart noecker - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 30, 2005
Subject: Fucking insanity...
So, like, NOW Diebold has to make voting machines that print a piece of paper. Now! How has the lives of billions of people been subject to the wims of a fucking printer? Paper and ink have been forced together for THOUSANDS of years. Why, after cloning animals and traveling to other objects in space, have we just figured out how to print a ballot after a computer records our vote? How many tens of thousands have or will die because of this?
Reviewer: Yogibear - favoritefavoritefavorite - November 5, 2004
Subject: Be here now
I am afraid this is too complex - why don´t you challenge the present ...?
Reviewer: Marysz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 7, 2004
Subject: America Through Rose-Colored Glasses
A sentimentalized look at Election Day in Riverton, California. Mrs. Dawson, the high school principal, is the small-town matriarch who runs the local polling place and keeps the voting honest. Her presence in this 1944 film reflects how women kept AmericaÂs civic institutions running during World War II.

This film shows the same mythical, small-town America that Norman Rockwell portrayed on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. The domestic upheaval of the Depression and the war obviously led to a lot of nostalgia for a past that never was, even on the part of the otherwise sophisticated director John Houseman and composer Virgil Thomson. The cities, where elections were messier and more problematic, get shorter shrift in this film. Still, itÂs interesting to note that Election Day was a holiday then. Too bad thatÂs not the case now. And too bad there arenÂt more fair-minded people like Mrs. Dawson around to make sure each vote is counted.
Reviewer: Rick Prelinger - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 29, 2004
Subject: Politics the way we were told it was supposed to be
We've traveled quite a way in 60 years.
Reviewer: red sweater - favoritefavoritefavorite - November 26, 2002
Subject: better just to read the shot list!
better just to read the shot list!
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